Caring For a Disabled Child with Special Needs

Focus on Disability - For Disabled People, the Elderly and their Carers in the UK

A carers guide to the special needs childcare services and things to consider for a disabled child such as specialist training and medical needs.

see also:
Disabled Children – Young People
Early Support Family File
Child Health and Child Social Care Professionals

Find out about different types of childcare

Things to consider

Whatever your child’s age, ability or circumstances, all parents would probably think about these issues:
  • what sort of childcare would work best for your family – a childminder, nursery or after-school care?
  • is the carer Ofsted registered?
  • will activities be appropriate for your child’s ability?
  • is the carer/setting safe, friendly and do you think your child will be happy in the environment?
You may also need to think about questions like:
  • does the carer have experience in looking after a child with a similar disability, and if not, would they be happy for you to show them what is needed?
  • how much specialist care does your child need, and is appropriate training available locally?
  • does your child have therapy or appointments that they need to go to in the time they will be cared for, and can your playgroup, nursery or school take your child to these appointments?

Get the best from childcare

You are the expert on your child. To get the best from childcare:

  • give the carer clear and detailed information about your child’s likes and dislikes, needs, medication and appointments
  • take your time and visit the childminder, pre-school/playgroup or nursery – more than once if you want to
  • agree a ‘settling-in’ period where you leave your child for short periods of time until you are comfortable to leave for the entire session
  • if you are on the Early Support programme and have a Family File, show this to the carer
  • Sharing information about your child – the Early Support Family File

Children with medical needs

Does the carer need specialist training or equipment?

Often carers need specific training to give medication.

If you have been shown how to give medication to your child by your doctor, nurse or health visitor, you can ask the same person to give this training to your child’s new carer.

Your social worker or area special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) should be able to tell you more.

Family Information Services and early education

Your local Family Information Service has details about the full range of childcare and early education opportunities in your local area. They may also be able to tell you about other specialist services that your child may need because of their disability, such as the Early Support programme.

All children over three years old are entitled to a free part-time place in an early years setting, for example a nursery, before they transfer to full-time school.

If you want full-time daycare, you may be able to pay for extra hours so that you can start or return to work or take a break from your caring responsibilities.

You can find childcare providers in your area online. Just type in your postcode or town to find childminders, crèches, nurseries, out of school care, holiday care and pre-school care local to you.

Sure Start Children’s Centres

Sure Start Children’s Centres Children’s centres provide a variety of advice and support for parents and carers. Their services are available to you from pregnancy right through to when your child goes into reception class at primary school.

How children’s centres can help you

There are more than 3,600 children’s centres in England. They bring all the different support agencies together to offer a range of services to meet you and your child’s needs, all in one place.

They’re somewhere your child can make friends and learn as they play. You can get professional advice on health and family matters, learn about training and job opportunities or just socialise with other people.

Services children’s centres must offer

Children’s centres are developed in line with the needs of the local community so no one children’s centre is the same. However, there is a core set of services they must provide:

  • child and family health services, ranging from health visitors to breastfeeding support
  • most centres offer high quality childcare and early learning – those that don’t can help advise on local childcare options
  • advice on parenting, local childcare options and access to specialist services for families like speech therapy, healthy eating advice or help with managing money
  • help for you to find work or training opportunities, using links to local Jobcentre Plus offices and training providers

Other services you might be offered

The services available to you will depend on your local area. At many children’s centres you can:

  • see a dentist, dietician or physiotherapist
  • visit the ‘stop smoking’ clinic
  • get faster access to expert advice, support and short-term breaks if your child has learning difficulties or disabilities
  • talk to Citizens Advice
  • take parenting classes
  • improve your English if it is not your first language – with someone from your own culture
Finding your local children’s centre

You can locate your nearest Sure Start Children’s Centre by contacting your local authority for details about childcare and family services in your area.

Paying for the service

Children’s centres are open to all children and parents and many of the services are free, for example access to midwives and health visitors. You will have to pay for childcare services but there is support through:

  • the free early learning entitlement for three and four year olds
  • tax credits for those who are eligible for help

You may also have to pay a small charge for some activities like toddler groups and baby massage.

Day nurseries

Local authority nurseries are usually for children up to five years old. Places are usually given to those children who need them most.

Talk to your social worker to see if there is a place in your local authority nursery. You may be offered a free part-time place where you can pay the extra to make it up to a full-time place, if you want to.

You may also be able to find a place for your child at a private day nursery.

Pre-schools or playgroups

Pre-schools provide care and early education for children aged between three and five years old. Sessions often last from two and a half hours to four hours, though some are now beginning to offer full-time places. Most are open during term time only, but check locally to see what is available near you.

As with day nurseries, free part-time early education places are normally available and additional support may be provided for disabled children through the area SENCO.

Out-of-school clubs

There are many out of school clubs and some schools are becoming ‘extended schools’, which offer breakfast clubs (from 8.00 am) and after school clubs (typically until 6.00 pm). Find out from your child’s school if these clubs are available.


Childminders look after children in the childminder’s own home. They are usually parents themselves and may have cared for a disabled child before.

Visit the childminder to see the environment and whether the other children are happy playing. Talk to the childminder about the sort of activities they do and the care your child needs. You can use a childminder for all-day or before- or after-school care.

Home childcarers

Home childcarers are registered childminders who come to look after your child in your home. This service has recently been introduced in some areas.

Find out about before and after-school childcare locally

The following link will let you enter details of where you live and then take you to your local council website where you can find out more about before- and after-school childcare in your local area. Please note that this service is only available for councils in England.


Discrimination and Childcare

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 sets out two main duties for childcare providers:

  • not to treat a disabled child ‘less favourably’
  • to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled children

Discussing your child’s needs with the childcare provider can often lead to a better understanding of how these needs can be managed. You may wish to include, for example, an occupational therapist or psychologist.
For more information see: The Disability Discrimination Act


TAC Interconnections:

For everyone in the world of childhood disability. They keep a broad and inclusive focus on all babies, children and young people whatever their disabilities, special needs and situations.

Working to:
• help keep everyone up to date with developments and events
• support the national and international collection of evidence about effective support
• foster the Team Around the Child (TAC) approach – children and families do better when the people helping them work together.

For more information see: